If you’ve always wanted to learn how to dance Samba, this petite powerhouse is the one who can get you there. With over 25 years experience as dancer, choreographer, and dance instructor, Quenia Ribeiro is world-renowned for her high energy and unique teaching style, becoming a staple in many New York City dance studios and TV stations, and traveling the world to teach the art of this popular Afro-Brazilian dance.
Take our word for it, Samba isn’t for the uncoordinated. But if you watch one of her workout videos, you’ll quickly realize that Quenia makes it look very easy, like it’s in her blood. This is because Quenia fell in love with dance at a very young age. At the age of 5 she began studying classic ballet; by the age of 17, she was teaching it to other children.
As for the Samba part? She explains, “Growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil exposed me to many artistic genres, especially the Afro-Brazilian diaspora culture, including Capoeira and Candomble. Throughout my life, I [have been] very involved with Samba and the culture of Carnaval.” She started teaching in New York City in 1997–and the rest is history.
Through her own dance company, Grupo Ribeiro, Quenia teaches different types of Samba and Samba roots including Orixas, Samba Reggae, and Jongo. Her DVD workouts and classes are sure to challenge and improve your coordination, cardio, muscle, core, and flexibility, but you’ll be smiling the whole time through. She promises positive vibes in every class, “I have students [who have] expressed gratitude on how my classes were life-changing experiences, and that is amazing!”
She also teaches children and teens at public and private schools in New York City and Brazil, as well as the elderly at senior centers.
What is it about teaching that she enjoys? She replies, “I love the sense of community in the classes. This feeling of togetherness combined with the energy of the drums brings a contagious positive feeling. It’s like bringing an amazing Brazilian party to the students without leaving New York.”
No need to feel intimidated; Samba is for all dance levels. Her advice for beginners? “To open [your] hearts to the culture and to start slow on a trial and error basis, like with everything in life. Determination is another key element to keep going, and don’t be too critical on yourself. The journey always starts with the first step.”
Like every master of her craft, Quenia faced many challenges throughout her career, including the very beginning. “It was challenging at times, [starting at an] early age in classic ballet. I was not the tallest and did not have a certain body type, but, as challenging as it was, I manage to look beyond that and create my own techniques using my experience in choreography to apply to Samba and Afro-Brazilian dance.”
What keeps Quenia going all these years? She says, “This sensation of doing what I love the most: dancing and teaching dance. I combine the love of dance to the awarding sensation of seeing a student happy. There is nothing in the world that I can compare to it. It makes me [feel] happy and fulfilled.”
And how does she prepare for an upcoming performance or class? “Listen to a lot of Brazilian music. Music is a great part of my training. I make sure I absorb as much music as I can to incorporate in my choreography.”
When not performing or teaching, Quenia is busy “working on choreography development, weight-lifting, and making sure I keep a good nutrition to maintain my energy at higher levels”.
Quenia is a female fitness force we look up to, but who inspires her to be the best in her art? She answers, “My inspiration has been always my mother. As a single mother, she took care of me and my brother, and also support me in my journey of being a dancer. Professionally, I have always respected many performance artists in the field. They work super hard to bring culture and well-being to spectators around the world.”
Today, she is making the best of her time in Rio doing research and working on new projects. When COVID-19 hit and halted international travel, Quenia was already in Rio visiting family and friends. “I took this opportunity to create new things in my line of work. I’m teaching online every Thursday by Zoom. I will be back [to the States] when this crisis winds down.”
For more about Quenia or to sign up for a class or workshop, visit www.SambaSambaSamba.com. You can also follow her on Facebook or Instagram to see what she’s up to, or watch her perform and try out one of her classes on YouTube.
Photo: Enrico Ribeiro